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Health Departments Assess Response to H1N1

February 3, 2010

Improved Communication and Coordination Key to Better Response

Even as officials are predicting another wave of H1N1 in the spring, health departments and other organizations have started to take a glance back at their response to the virus that first emerged in the U.S. in April of last year. Resoundingly, improving communication and coordination among all responders is being pointed as a means of bettering the response to any other potential public health emergency.

In Kane County, IL, health officials are seeking input and comments from the community about how H1N1 was handled while they assess their efforts.

As reported in the Daily Herald on Jan. 27, the executive director of the county’s health department, Paul Kuehnert, said there needed to be better communication among emergency responders (fire and police) and healthcare providers. Better coordination among counties could have also improved communication, he said.

"Information is really key,” said Kuehnert. “It has to be accurate, timely, accessible.”

According to a Feb. 1 report, the Hawaii State Health Department “is gathering data and working on ‘after-action’ reports to better prepare for other potential vaccine-preventable or food-borne diseases or disasters.”

While the cash-strapped state also had to deal with scarce resources and overworked labs during the pandemic outbreak, they emphasized the need for clear and effective communication efforts.

"There needs to be more discussion and better identification...who needs to be protected so our society doesn''t collapse," said Dr. Sarah Park, the state epidemiologist. "The biggest issue is the challenge of public messaging, trying to get the word out and insure that everyone understood what was going on."

According to Park, positive outcomes of the H1N1 pandemic were the opportunities for the state health department to improve communications through their Web site and form better partnerships.

Federal Effort Got Bad Marks

While state, county, and local health departments aim to improve their response strategies to health emergencies, the H1N1 virus is being considered a test of the country’s capabilities to do the same. A recent U.S. Senate commission gave the federal government poor marks for their response to the pandemic

Bob Graham, former Democratic senator from Florida, and Jim Talent, former Republican senator from Missouri, are chairman and co-chairman of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism. In a recent Washington Post op-ed they wrote: “In short, despite the tireless efforts of public health and healthcare workers, America''s experience with H1N1 shows that the nation is not prepared to deal with a flu pandemic. The really bad news is that we are far more prepared to respond to a flu outbreak than to any other biological event, natural or manmade, such as the Ebola virus.”

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